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In response to Danna, concerning RV travel

Hi there!

My boyfriend and I recently became RV full-timers, currently living in Austin, TX. Because there are only 2 of us, we opted for a 1985 Winnebago Lesharo (rocking a 4 cylinder Renault). The updated model is the Rialta, with a Volkswagen engine. We love our rig, but it may be a little tight for a family of four.

Since joining the RV community, we’ve had the opportunity to peep a plethora of RV’s, fifth wheels, trailers, etc. If you’re into simple living and not looking for a gaudy amount of space, I would go for either one of these:

Toyota Dolphin: they’ve been known to pretty reliable- we’ve had friends that traveled the whole U.S. in one. For a family of 4, you would have to make and unmake the back bed every day (because that would also be your dining/sitting area). But the beds are separated, so hanky panky isn’t totally out of the question. Decent kitchen and bigger bathroom than my rig.

Born Free- these are great. There are a number of different models, but the best I’ve seen comes with the bed above the truck bed and then a pull out couch bed. It also has a separate 2-seater dining area. Bigger kitchen, bathroom, closet. Love this thing. There are some Born Free models that can go off-roading, which is pretty remarkable.

I would NOT go with:

A ridiculous bus that’s as big as a house. Why leave your house? The point is to work a little harder to appreciate what you have and the people around you.

A Road Trek or anything like it. These are the souped-up conversion vans that are so tight, you’d go crazy. We met a man who lived in there by himself, and it was still too tight.

Ok, I hope this helps. Others would find that my recommendations are useless; but different people are looking for different things when it comes to an RV. My boyfriend and I were looking for something that could fit in a standard parking spot. We’ve got limited space, but we’ve certainly become much closer.

I hope you find the right fit for your family, Danna!

If you’re interested in reading about our story, check out our blog:

Get a conversion van. VW just reissued their camping van which has stove, beds, seats, refrig and can have toilet. It has good gas mileage and is easy to drive. Also AirStream makes a conversion van.

Mercedes Sprinter based B class RV - Roadtrek Adventurous RS.
All the info is here:

seems like pete and kara have some great thoughts. Having done quite a bit of camping with the kids when they were little, I’d like to post my comments.

The recommendation of the tappet bros to consider a “pop-up” trailer is a little misguided. I’m guessing they’ve never traveled with toddlers. We have a pop-up and love it. For years we camped with a regular small tent, but once having kids, the pop-up was a great move. That said, I doubt that you’re going to want to take the extra time to set it up at the end of the day when you have two tired, or ready to explore little ones. I do like the idea of a trailer for lots of reasons. Should you encounter bad weather, road delays, or just need a quiet nap spot… a walk into it, ready to go trailer is worth considering. Also, with a trailer you can unhook it and have the pulling vehicle to go explore the area should you want to stay put for an extended time. With a trailer you’re not feeling like you’re having to pack up each day just to go visit a local trail or even go to the grocery store.
I’d get the smallest trailer you feel comfortable living in for weeks on end. Smaller is in many ways better cuz it’s easier to pull, will remind you to keep things simple, and easier on the vehicle that’s pulling it. Maybe a pickup truck or something just large enough to keep the daily stuff and a bit of the extra stuff in.

Their recommendation of the narrowest vehicle is good advice. The best adventures will not be found on the interstate. I live in the Rocky mountains and many of the best roads are narrow 2 lane. Pick up trucks are fine as are other SUV’s. We now have a suburban. Great travel vehicle. Also a great towing package. If you opt for a trailer, look for a vehicle with a towing package. Usually better cooling system, suspension and brakes.
Just some random thoughts. hope this helps.

A travel trailer is definitely a great option for the right person/family. Good call Jeanne Marie.

Pete and I opted not to go for something like that for a number of reasons.

First, having a trailer almost requires you to stay at a campground (or Walmart parking lots). Pete and I were looking for something we could boondock in. Incognito. Our rig looks like an 80’s spaceship van. So, not that incognito. But people don’t always know we’re sleeping in there. Basically, we wanted to be able to park and sleep downtown in any city or go to a campground/RV park and hook up to electricity (we don’t use the water system on board our rig, so when we boondock, we pee in bottles/bowls and poo in bags. This is living. Hey, don’t judge. You pick up your dog’s poo with a plastic bag, no?). Perhaps this isn’t the way to go with children, though.

Second, we travel heavily by bike. Not always easy, but a great workout and a great mode to see lots of wonderful places. We use our engine (4 cylinder Renault, what’s up!)only to propel us from place to place. Of course, this is not always as easy with kiddos. They don’t always keep up…

Third, not having a trailer is easier driving. Getting in and out of traffic. Parking. Whatever. Even though our putzy little Renault only went 60mph on the highway, I (a not-so-confident big rig driver) felt super comfortable in it. Driving big trucks scare me.

I suppose I could go on about the small Winnebago lifestyle. But basically- we were looking for the ability to boondock, a good amount of storage (we built a permanent bed in our rig so that we could have ample bin storage underneath. We each have a bin for clothing; a bin for tools; a bin for spare parts).

For a family, the VW pop up seems a bit small. I think if I had a family (which I don’t plan on…um, ever), I’d go for something like the Born Free with the Quigley van conversion for off-roading. Some models are smaller and could fit in a parking spot (about 21 feet) whereas others are a bit longer and would require and RV park.

If Pete and I could start from scratch (and had a lot more money- we bought our Winnebago for a whopping $1900!), we’d buy a 4x4 cargo van and convert the hell out of it. That way, we could do exactly what we wanted. Ideally, getting an empty Mercedes (woah, big money!) Sprinter shell and converting it would be awesome. Great size and everything could be custom. I just don’t think they’ve done a great job with the interior. Could be far more efficient.

Speaking of, Pete and I are looking to be as efficient as possible- space, power, gas, etc. We just did a great deal of engine maintenance and we’ll be adding solar panels to our roof shortly (Pete’s going to school to be a certified installer). If you got the cash, you should definitely get some solar panels. If only for an emergency backup.

Ok, this has been a bit of an extended reply. Hope it helps!


Dear Danna,
I was listening to you today on the show and have a couple of thoughts I’d like to share. (1) A great way to go anywhere you want is with a 3/4 ton 4x4 crew cab (has rear seating and 4 doors - easy access to the kids) and a Fifth-wheel. This way you could camp anywhere you want, detach the truck and go sightseeing, and setup is a breeze – just roll out an awning! (2)This sounds like so much fun, but have you considered doing this when the kids are 4 and 5? That’s still before they start school and they will both remember all the great experiences. At 2 and 3 their development really won’t let them remember much. Just a thought. All the best, Muddoggie49

I did like Tom and Ray’s suggestion for a pop up camper, and a conversion van. I imagine visiting cities will be part of the field trip and would not like negotiating the streets and parking in chicago or many other cities in a Winnebago.

I just logged in to say the same thing. It really makes sense to find a nice place to set up the trailer or fifth wheel and then take the truck on day trips.

My wife and I have done the trip around the country several times. Once in a VW camper, which had all the comforts of an RV but got much better mileage. Once in a Ford Van with extended cab…it was a gas hog and is not recommended. Once with back packs in a Honda Civic…which might not work so well with young kids…I’d suggest the VW Camper first and the Honda Civic approach second. We opted to camp in the least developed campgrounds such as BLM or Forest Service campgrounds and commercial campgrounds once a week where we would do laundry, take showers, go shopping, etc. One of the beauties of a VW camper (if you don’t put the pop-up roof up) was that we could stay in parking lots at apartment complexes or shopping centers because we didn’t stick out. Once, when we were out of gas we stayed next to the gas pumps at a gas station all night. (We were first in line in the morning, too.) Commercial campgrounds for an RV with hookups runs almost as much as a motel, so there’ no advantage to the RV. Stay as small as you can. Whatever you do, the kids will love it. Don’t become destination oriented, drive 250 miles a day or less and stay an extra day or two when you’re having fun. Buy only those groceries you need…storage is a pain, but keep some items available so you can eat at any time (soups, canned stews, carrots, granola bars) Take some bottled water but use canteens unless the local water tastes bad. Take good care of your transportation unless you are willing to spend time beside the road when something goes bad. Don’t say “We’ll have to do that next trip” because you won’t. Do it now, if you come back again, you can do it again next time and it’ll be even more fun the second time. Consider going to all the famous places…they’re famous because they’re great.
My parents did trips in a 1951 Ford with me and my sister when we were young (8 & 10)…and we are both dedicated travelers now because we loved it so much. We still talk about those trips and the great times we had.
My wife and I are about to go on another camping trip across the country…this time on a motorcycle.

My husband and I have done many road trips with our kids, camping along the way. We’ve owned 2 Chrysler minivans which we have never loved but did the job and gave us the space we needed to separate the kids, stow the gear, tow stuff and even provide emergency sleeping space. Will never own another Chrysler vehicle again but our current 10 yr old awd t&c is somewhat reliable and backed up with aaa membership. Here are my recommendations.

  1. Minivan with awd since you will be traveling year round
  2. Membership with Koa which have terrific family oriented campgrounds. Some have pools, playgrounds, small cabins. All have hot water, showers, laundry facilities and if you become member you can reserve space in advance.
  3. We go 3-4 nights in campgrounds or Koa and then 1 or 2 nights in a hotel. We repeat the cycle
  4. Don’t tow anything. It just reduces your flexibility in big cities and one more thing to worry about.
  5. Do a lot of research before heading into Mexico. I wouldn’t drive/camp through that county especially with small children.
  6. AAA membership with good tow package. 10 years ago when the t&c was new one of our tires blew out in remote Montana on I90. The kids and I were driving with a fully loaded van, dog and cat to join my husband in the Midwest who had taken a new job. It was packed full. AAA sent someone from 30 miles away to change the tire which I couldn’t have done. We had some Chrysler emergency plan too but couldn’t get thru on the cell phone. Plus AAA has great free maps, guide books, discounts.

Hope these tips help. Good luck.

this was my thought. Turbo diesel & they have a narrower wheelbase with better (or at least as good) MPG as a truck needed for a 5th wheel - no set up.

don’t have one … so this is just my 2 cents … What ever you get - have a wonderful time.

Hi Danna,
go and rent an R/V for a week and stay at a few different campgrounds. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the experience and you and your husband will be able to make a more educated decision. Good luck!

Hi Danna. I hope you and your family really do get to spend the next year on the road. My husband and I have an Airstream Sprinter Westfalia and we love it. It has a bathroom, kitchen and sleeps 4. Check it out! It gets great gas mileage. I especially like to be able to prepare snacks while on the road. We have driven across country several times and it never gets old. Good Luck.

My wife and I traveled around the world for a year with our three and four year old daughters. The keys to a happy experience for everyone are these:

-Make sure naps, meals and bedtimes are at the same time every day. The naps are especially important. No matter where you are, when nap time comes, everybody should go into nap mode. And when it’s bedtime, same thing. You’ll want to fudge meal times, but if you do, you’ll suffer. The kids will get cranky and that will make you cranky which will make them even crankier, etc. (This advice will be harder to take than you think.)

As to what vehicle: I’d go with a travel trailer (lets fantasize; how about a 27’ Airstream International Serenity?) and a big SUV. While in transit, the kids can take their naps in the car. When you’re briefly “home based”, Mom or Dad will be able to take off to do errands and get some “alone” time. Being together 24/7 is a great experience, but at times it wears.

I think she should get the class c motor home and for get about the car too many problems with the Ford Windstar. (see below)

Problems 1998 United States Postal Service Ford Windstar, showing the larger driver’s side doorThroughout its life, the first generation Windstar developed a long list of reliability issues. The 1995 3.8 L V6 Essex engine was susceptible to headgasket failure, as in the Taurus and Mercury Sable; however, the Windstar’s problem was exacerbated by an even tighter engine bay and higher loads, the van being 700 pounds heavier. Ford extended the warranty on the headgasket to 100,000 miles on most Windstar models. The 3.0 L V6 Vulcan engine was not susceptible to headgasket failure, being a completely different engine design.

The Windstar was paired with an AXOD-E/AX4S transaxle, which was prone to internal failure. The AXOD transmission suffered from cracked forward and reverse clutch pistons. These transmission failures were most susceptible with the 3.8L engine, as the transmission could not handle the extra torque and the extra vehicle weight. Windstars with the 3.0L engine could go far past 150k miles with regular maintenance.

In September 2010 Ford recalled 500,000 1998?2003 Windstars over rear axle cracking.[4]

Hope you enjoy your life while your young enough too.


We sold our house 13 years ago to live fulltime in a bus-type RV (Class A) for our retirement. Great for us but too big for your purposes.
When our children were 4 and 1 we did much as you are doing. . .sold our house, quit our jobs, bought an RV and looked for a new place to settle down. We bought a pop-up trailer like CarTalk recommended. We had it remodeled for our needs and still were only able to tolerate it for 2 months. The main issues: lack of bathroom, cloth walls that sweat and leaked heat, and the single room so we had to go to bed and get up with the kids every day.
Since then we have had every kind of RV. By far the best option would be a used Class C motorhome, about 25-28 foot length. They can go on any road, park in grocery store parking lots, have a bathroom to use wherever you are, have a kitchen to access all the time, have storage options, and the space above the cab is a great place to for the kids (just add a side-rail for safety). That allows you to have a bed and sofa to use after they go to bed. Campgrounds have pools, playgrounds, room to run, and are full of friendly people. In the current economy there are great deals for used units so you should have no trouble getting a Class C RV for $10 to 20,000. When you finish traveling, it can give you a temporary home at first, then it can be a second vehicle and provide a great way to travel during summer vacations.
All of these are missing if you use a car and sleep in motels. Restrooms in Canada, Mexico or the western states of USA can be 50 or more miles apart. When I think of hundreds of motel rooms…BEDBUGS are the first thing that comes to mind! Also, our memories of leaving behind a favorite blanket for our 3-year old. With an RV you have places for all the items kids need while you bring your home where ever you go.
Tips: Tires need to be replaced if over 7 years old (even with good tread), verify that all appliances and plumbing are good.
Enjoy your travels

I have long ago concluded that click and clack know a lot about car but not much about driving.They are typical of people who live in crowded eastern coastal cities.

Danna, here is the voice of experience, RGustafson has it right on. But also the person who suggested to rent one for a long weekend and give it a try.
toilet going down the road
kitchen going down the road
small enough to fit anywhere (25 feetish)
easy to maintain (hopefully one of you is mechanical, these always have issues to deal with, but make it fun)

Be sure to have a MiFi with you so that anyone can be online going down the road.
Also agree completely with the person who suggested to wait a bit longer, 4 and 3 would be so much better than 3 and 2.

Have a ball. RV parks are incredibly fun places and have lots to do for families. Just go to GoogleMaps and enlarge the area you are going, type in RV parks (Mobile, or wherever you are) and they will pop up with reviews, which are great.

Keep a diary (or blog) and keep it going online so that this community can keep up.

My husband and I live in an RV and we love it. Take all the back roads you can. Right now I’d stay out of Mexico til it calms down, but Canada is brilliant.

Hi Danna - I am a newbie at this online discussion thing - but have some experience camping. Agree with several of the others - pop-ups have their place - but wait 'til the kids are teenagers - then they can help with the set up! We used one when our boys were 13 and 16! Perfect! We now have a class B Pleasureway. We LOVE it. It might be tight with two little ones but it is comfortable, easy to drive and easy to park. I only shower in it if I’ve been on a long bike ride in the summer heat and humidity and there are no shower facilities before a long drive. But having a toilet along! Well - it is great!! We have a model with the toilet in it’s own little “closet” so the aisle is free all the time - I would recommend this. Sounds like a blast! Have a great time!!

I’m a bit late jumping into the frying pan here. I listen to the show via podcast while I drive and just got around to hearing it today while heading from OKCity to Amarillo. I have a little experience living on wheels, having done it for the past 18 years. My husband and I raised our son OTR (On The Road) while touring the US fulltime with our theatre company in a wide variety of vehicles, everything from a station wagon (staying at hotels) to a conversion van to a 30 foot motorhome.

Many families starting out make the mistake of getting an RV that is way too large. We are quite happy with our small class-C, it is easy to get around in, even when we have to take it into cities to do shows. Families who tend to stay parked longer than we do tend prefer a 5th wheel.

One of the questions Click and Clack raised was whether or not staying at hotels would be cheaper than RVing. Based on our experience, RVing beats hotel living, even with the gas prices being what they are. You will save even more once you realize you don’t have to stay at a campground every night. And that goes double for the convenience of having your house with you. Moving in and out of hotels is a bear, especially with kids. With an RV, you park and you are home. The bathroom and kitchen are always handy.

I will reiterate what has already been stated here, pop-ups are definetly not the way to go if you are fulltiming. They may be fine for a week or two, but you’d be miserable with one for the long haul.

There is no need to wait until your kids grow up or even stop when your kids hit school age. Our son was 18 months old when we started and moved out when he became a young adult; mom and dad continue traveling. There are many families doing what we do. You can meet them, read their blogs and join our community over at

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